A joint show between two galleries contains some magnificent pieces that have never been seen in Dubai.
A winning way with words: Pakistani calligraphy artists on show in Dubai
Behind the reception at Al Badia Golf Club this month is a painting that captures the attention of most visitors, whether they are interested in art or not. In it, the sweeping white calligraphic curves – against an azure background with a sun-like disc emerging from the centre – are reminiscent of a ship out at sea or a dramatic skyscape, but they actually spell out a verse of the Quran. The smaller words dance across the canvas and as you get closer, the detail and juxtaposition of colour is quite stunning. Even if you cannot read Arabic, the painting, called Surat Kausar, is completely engaging.
The artist is Tariq Bin Qullander, a young Pakistani quickly gaining international recognition, although this is only his second exhibition in Dubai. Represented by Mussawir Art Gallery in Al Quoz, Bin Qullander, who only ever goes by his last name, is one of four calligraphic artists on display in the golf club, which is actually the permanent home of another gallery – Art Couture.
For Captivating Calligraphy, the two galleries came together in collaboration to present work both felt was relevant for Ramadan, Eid and the month of August.
“A lot of other places are really quiet during the summer but this is the busiest time of the year for us,” explains Cynthia Richards, the founder of Art Couture. “We haven’t welcomed another gallery here before but when Mussawir approached us, I felt that this art was really perfect for the space.”
The show opened on August 1 and at least 200 people visited daily until the end of Ramadan and Eid. Even since then, the steady stream of visitors to the golf club means the art is getting more of an audience than it would in Al Quoz at this time of year.
“I’m really glad we collaborated with Art Couture for that reason,” says Naila Fancy, a co-director of Mussawir. “We have exposure to many different audiences here and if our artists can gain more recognition, then that is the most important thing.”
Mussawir was set up in December last year solely to represent Pakistani artists. Fancy, who has been collecting Pakistani art for the past 20 years, went into partnership with Mohamad Ramzan, the owner of Ejaz Gallery in Lahore, to open the space in Dubai. “We found art from Pakistan was very under--represented here and they are doing absolutely phenomenal stuff that deserves to be seen,” says Fancy.
And, if Bin Qullander’s work is anything to go by, then we tend to agree.
Joining him in the exhibition is Noreen Akhtar, who, like Bin Qullander, graduated from the National College of Arts in Lahore, an institution with a solid repertoire of talented graduates including Waqas Khan, one of this year’s Jameel Prize nominees, and Imran Qureshi, who now teaches there and is a leading figure in the regional art scene.
Akhtar uses paper cutting, embossing and ink in her mixed-media work that clearly takes inspiration from miniature painting. She meticulously repeats the name of Allah throughout the work, encapsulating the nature of worship. This is the first time Akhtar has been exhibited anywhere and according to Ramzan’s expert eye, she is definitely a talent to watch in the future.
The other two artists in the show are Arif Khan and Ahmed Khan. The latter is thought of as Pakistan’s greatest living calligraphic artist and his work involves a labour-intensive process of embossing designs in silver leaf foil on canvas and then using a chemical wash to turn them into vibrant colours.
Now in his 70s, Khan has been sold at Bonhams and Christie’s. Ramzan refers to him as “the master” and says it gives him great pleasure to bring his work to new audiences.
Captivating Calligraphy is one of the regular exhibitions gracing the walls of Al Badia that Richards rotates every 45 to 60 days. “There are a lot of people who come here so we try to rotate the exhibitions to give the people different types of art and different price ranges,” she says.
Richards, who is an accomplished artist in her own right, began her journey into the gallery business in 2007 when she opened Art Couture as a small boutique in Al Fattan Marine Towers on Jumeirah Beach Residence as a place to sell her own work. Two years ago, the team from Al Badia approached her and offered her the choice of any of the walls in the cleverly designed golf club to fill with art from her gallery. Since then, she has made it her goal to bring as many different artists as possible to the space and to contribute to Dubai’s growing art scene.
“Most galleries are very formal and it can be unnerving to enter but this atmosphere is different,” she says of the advantages of having a gallery within a public space. “People come and go and the names and numbers are on the side of each painting so they have more freedom to browse. We also have more freedom, we have all the walls and event spaces, too.”
Using a clever combination of colours and bold strokes, Pakistan’s Tahir Bin Qullander steers away from the traditional form of calligraphy to create contemporary graphic compositions that can be reminiscent of street art. Born in 1980 and based in Lahore, Bin Qullander describes his work as “art for art’s sake”.
Akhtar graduated last year with a master’s degree in fine art and painting but it is mixed-media and collage that characterise her work. With obvious reference to miniature paintings, Akhtar’s work is meticulously composed and her inspiration comes directly from Arabic.
Arif Khan uses a subtractive technique where he almost carves the words out of the paint, using various mark-making implements. As such, his works demonstrate a balance of design and painting skills. A lecturer at Punjab University, he works in both oil and watercolours.
Born in 1938, Ahmed Khan has been referred to as one of Pakistan’s greatest living calligraphy artists and his works have sold internationally at both Bonhams and Christie’s. His unique process involves overlaying calligraphic designs; he uses gold and silver leaf and then cleverly administers chemicals to turn them into bright colours.
Captivating Calligraphy runs at Al Badia Golf Club, Dubai Festival City until August 20
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